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Bolivia Itineraries

The Gringo Trail: La Paz, the Lake, Coroico and the Salt Flats—Two Weeks

Start your trip in La Paz; you’ll need at least three days to explore the capital city. La Paz is dizzying in its altitude and its attitude. It is faster-paced than anywhere else in Bolivia so it’s a good place for a mindset transition from home to Bolivia. Bike down the World’s Most Dangerous Road, get your souvenir shopping down on Sagarnaga, and check out South America’s most talked about curry house. You can book all your tours or just enjoy a Paceña with fellow travelers before heading to Copacabana and the great Lake Titicaca for a couple of days.

You’ll most likely arrive in Copacabana in the evening, so check in to your lakeside hotel and go straight to the shore for an incredibly affordable trout dinner. Catch the early morning boat to Isla del Sol and prepare for a hike up, up, up the old Inca steps to your hostel. Though you won’t believe there could be vistas better than those out your bedroom window, venture out for a six-hour roundtrip walk around the island. You’ll trek through three communities, above the lake, down across the beaches and to ancient ruins. After your night’s stay, consider a morning trip in a commissioned boat to Isla de La Luna or the Islas Huyñaymarka; head back to Copacabana to catch an evening bus up to Coroico.

Hike, bike, horseback ride or just sit poolside in this subtropical mountain forest. High up in the Yungas, the heat and the views will leave you wanting nothing more than a book and a deck chair. Resist your desire to stay in Coroico forever, bus back down, stopping over in La Paz, and catch the train in Oruro overnight to Tupiza. You’ll arrive at the station early in the morning, just in time to check into your accommodations (try Hotel Mitru; it has a pool and an epic breakfast included). Immediately after, begin Salt Flat tour hunting, if you haven’t already booked. Once you’ve picked your agency, get a good night’s sleep, as you’re due for early mornings and cold nights on the Salt Flats. Four days, one jeep and two hundred fotos locos later, you’ll be exhilarated and exhausted… and ready to do it all again.

Mission Circuit10 days

You can follow the large loop that runs between Santa Cruz and San José de Chiquitos called Las Misiones Jesuíticas (Jesuit Mission), which is set in eastern Bolivia, just about bordering Brazil at the easternmost point. Ideal for lovers of history, architecture or Christian imperialism, the seven settlement sites were established between 1691 and 1760 and are all still active communities.

A tour-de-circuit begins in Santa Cruz. You can either fly straight in (you may find cheaper flights than into La Paz) or slowly make your way overland, traveling either south from Lake Titicaca or La Paz, or north, if coming from the Salar or Argentina. A couple days in stunning Santa Cruz is the perfect way to start your trip—if you can plan your visit to coincide with Carnaval (February or March) you’ll be all the more entertained. From Santa Cruz the five or six day loop passes through San Javier, Concepción, San Ignacio de Velasco, Santa Ana, San Miguel, San Rafael, and San José de Chiquitos and will wow all who pass through. You will undoubtedly be busing from community to community, just be prepared to be patient, and remember to enjoy the views from a window seat!

 

Overland, From Chile (or Argentina) to the Lake—Two weeks

Some say it’s one of the most beautiful bus trips they have ever experienced; others swear that the changes in altitude and rocky roads are death-defying. Either way, the overland trip from Chile to Lake Titicaca is for those seeking something special.

Busing from San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, into Bolivia can be included as part of your Salar tour (find tour agents online or while in Santiago); or it can be done independently on a public bus. Both options offer stunning views and are much less expensive than flying internationally. Once you’re in Bolivia, the best option is to begin your Salt Flat tour to Uyuni as soon as possible. For three days, journey though the outer space-like terrain, past snow-peaked volcanoes, gatherings of flamingos and lagunas of all sorts of colors. You’ll finish in Uyuni, but plan to bus or train out as soon as possible; this cold and windy tourist town is not the most pleasant of Bolivia’s offerings.

If it’s Carnaval time, a stop in Oruro is a must, however, at other times of the year you can pass through without missing much. In that case, head straight to La Paz for three plus days of adventure and acclimatization (see The Gringo Trail), and finish your trip with some time near, and on, Lake Titicaca. A day or so in Copacabana will do, but leave sufficient time for exploring Isla del Sol and any day trips to other islands or the surrounding altiplano communities. The vast blue waters and towering white mountains will certainly be a rewarding end to such an awesome overland excursion.

Note: The above route can be adapted if you are coming from Argentina. Entering from La Quiaca to Villazón can mean a Salt Flat start in Tupiza (four days by tour to Uyuni). If you have the time to spare, Tarija and the surrounding areas can be added before continuing your journey north.

 

 

 

The Andes and the Amazon—Two weeks

Using La Paz as your base, it is possible to experience two of Bolivia’s most incredible and extreme environments, the Andes and the Amazon. Whether you fly into La Paz or bus across the Peruvian border, you can spend a week or so between the capital city and Lake Titicaca. Pass your time enjoying trout dinners and beautiful sunsets, souvenir shopping, acclimatizing and sleeping well in some of the country’s finest accommodations. For more details on what to see and do in these gringo hotspots, see The Gringo Trail or Overland itineraries.

After you have enjoyed all the mountain majesty, begin your descent from the high altitudes by biking the World’s Most Dangerous Road. This death-defying (and arguably overpriced) trip sees you through to the subtropical mountain forest town of Coroico. Here you can horseback ride, hike, bike or sunbathe your days away—active or indolent, Coroico accepts both.

From Coroico, consider braving the epically long bus ride deep down to the true Amazon. A 15 to 18 hour route (this speedy schedule is only during the dry season) will find you in Rurrenabaque, the most popular traveler base for trips into the jungle. Alternatively, head back to La Paz and fly in for pre-planned tours, including romantic selva lodges and an array of jungle excursions. You can choose to head back to La Paz after your four or five day tour, or go wild by venturing deeper into the Bolivian Amazon.

 

 

Central Valleys and Lowlands—One week

A tour through Bolivia’s Central Valleys and Lowlands will exclude many of Bolivia’s hot tourist stops, so perhaps it can be an add-on to a longer excursion, or an option for those looking to see a different side of the country. While this tour won’t include the Lake or Salt Flats, some of Bolivia’s biggest tourist draws; it will highlight many of the countries most pleasant places.

Begin in La Paz, spending three dizzying days shopping and seeing before heading down to more sensible altitudes. Catch the bus out of the main terminal to Cochabamba, and plan for a full day of travel, or overnight it if you’d like (seven hours). While in Cochabamba, visit they city’s Cristo de la Concordia, shop at the largest open-air market in South America (La Concha), or try your hand at paragliding through the plains. Whatever your choice, it will be hard not to enjoy Bolivia’s so-called “Resort City”.

From here, keep it classy by heading straight to Sucre, another of Bolivia’s finest towns. This colonial white-washed city is the perfect place to take Spanish lessons for a day or two before venturing south to the lowlands.

If you indeed are sticking to a one week schedule, the quiet town of Tarija is the one must-stop here. Your visit to this lowland region is for the wonderful wineries that surround the town. The prices are unbelievable and the qualities unmatched—try vino patero (foot-stamped) at Casa Vieja or set up a tour of the entire area with Viva Tours (unaffiliated, but we like their name!).

 

 

National Parks—From three days and up

What Bolivia lacks in sea, it certainly makes up for with all other manner of natural treasures—perfectly preserved and explorable national parks and reserves especially. While a “National Park Itinerary” cannot possibly suggest a visit to all 66, including a few is the perfect way to see the country in its most pristine and natural state.

Bolivia’s parks and reserves are as diverse as the country’s total geography, and they spread throughout the land, from east to west and down the central valleys. If you’re based out of La Paz, you can catch a bus or 4x4 to quite a few:

To Parque Nacional Sajama, grab the bus toward Arica, Chile and hop off at the park, located just before the border crossing. This route is along some of the only smooth roads in Bolivia, so enjoy! In Sajama, avid climbers will stand in awe of the presence of Bolivia’s highest peak, and those not so keen to summit will still enjoy the sights. This national park is also known for its hot springs, vicunas and volcanoes.

To the north of La Paz—after a rocky route through the northern Yungas, via vagnoetta—lies Parque Nacional y Área Natural de Manejo Integrado Madidi. One of the most biodiverse environments in the whole world, Madidi can be reached from Rurrenabaque, just across the Beni River, both awesome spots to stop if you have the time. Once you’ve made your way to the park itself, consider a homestay in an indigenous community or check out one of the few eco-lodges (either in Madidi or in neighboring reserve, Apolobamba). This area in northeastern Bolivia is often considered the best off-the-beaten path destination in the country—accessible though remote, wild, however navigable.

Other easy-to-access national parks and reserves include Parque Nacional Carrasco, Parque Nacional Tunari, and Parque Nacional y Área de Uso Múltiple Amboró­­—all can be reached from La Paz; Cochabamba is even closer. You’re likely to pass through Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Ecuardo Avaroa without even knowing it, as it’s part of the Southwest Circuit, most all the area south of the Salar de Uyuni is included in this desert-like reserve.

For those with time and money to spare, consider a private tour of some the more remote options. Parque Nacional Noel Kempff Mercado and Parque Nacional Kaa-lya del Gran Chaco are both worth a visit, if you can get there. Noel Kempff Mercado has flora and fauna and rivers galore, and Kaa-lya boasts itself as Latin America’s larges park.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Bolivia: The Southwest, Salt Flats and Wine Regions Highlights, Highlights, Highlights and Highlights.








By Margaret Rode
A self-professed city girl, sassy staff writer Margaret Rode hails from Chicago where she received Bachelor degrees in English Literature and Spanish...
01 Mar 2010




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